Urban sketching: a worthy challenge

Art, Creativity, productivity

 

“Let me embrace thee, sour adversity, for wise men say it is the wisest course.”

-William Shakespeare

Old Bill is right, of course. We learn through challenging ourselves. You have to exist at the brink of your ability, stretching and straining with every fibre of your being – but without falling over the edge. That’s the fine balance you have to strive for to get better at anything. To stay safe, deep within the confines of your comfort zone, is death.

I’ve always loved drawing people. Faces, particularly. I must have drawn literally thousands over the years. It’s almost automatic now. Of course, I can always get better. But the increase in my skill is going to be marginal, now, particularly compared to trying something new.

In starting to share my work and engage with other creators, I’ve realised just how much talent is out there. I need to up my game. I’m not content with doing the same thing over and over again ad infinitum.

So, I’m doing something that truly challenges me: drawing places. They’re tricky – I’m clumsy, mucking up the perspective and shading. People and cars are moving around. It’s all going too quickly and I can’t get it right. They just feel wrong, disjointed somehow. But I’m learning so much, and it feels really, really good to be a beginner again.

Are you cruising along in any facet of your life at the moment? Is there anywhere you could mix things up, deliberately make things a little trickier for yourself? Your future self won’t regret it – they’d thank you for it, if they could.


Follow me on Instagram if you’d like to see a new drawing every day:

Rocky IV changed my life

Creativity, Fitness, Motivation, productivity

One of the best things about the Playstation 2 was that you could play DVDs on it. Around the time I got one, I managed to procure a small TV somehow. Then, one night, I made the move – up to my room they went. That heady combination led to many late nights gaming, and watching movies.

When I started working a Saturday job, I bought pre-owned games and DVDs by the dozen. The summer holidays of Year 9 were like a crazy, self-funded term at a film school. My curriculum was as varied as you’d imagine a teenage boy’s to be: Bond, Rambo, Conan the Barbarian, Predator, Under Siege. Then, at Christmas, I got the complete Rocky box set. I can’t remember if I managed to watch them all in one sitting or not, but it was pretty damn close.

Yes, they’re cliched and hammy. But they’re glorious. The training montages are the crystallised core of the films, representing all that makes them an iconic part of the zeitgeist. Rocky IV sees a bearded Stallone in the best shape of his life, sprinting up mountains, lifting rocks and helping Russian peasants. Why’s he putting himself through this agony? To avenge the death of his best friend at the hands of Ivan Drago. His trainer screams “No pain!” while synth music blasts in the background. To this day, the scene below gets me pumped up:

 

At the time, I was simultaneously extremely skinny and ridiculously out of shape. I’d never been in shape! I didn’t play any sports, or even think about why anyone would want to. My diet consisted of anything and everything – bags of donuts from the tuck shop were a staple. I just wasn’t connected to my body in any way. I had absolutely no drive or discipline: physically, or in any other area of my life. I was simply floating along, letting things happen to me.

For some reason, seeing Rocky control his body in that way, deliberately putting himself through hell to become stronger, faster and better in pursuit of a worthy goal, changed the way I looked at the world forever.

“What’s he doing?”

“He’s winning.”

Ringside at the final fight.

I started doing pushups, situps and pullups in my bedroom. I progressed onto making contraptions out of cinder blocks, sticks and rocks. I’d load up Sainsbury’s ‘Bags for Life’, and haul them around in a crazy circus act of a workout. Eventually I started running too, with absolutely no finesse, strategy or understanding. I literally just ran around the block in plimsolls. At first, I could barely get to the nearest lamppost and back before I was out of puff. But, it filled me with a kind of joy different to anything I’d ever experienced. At 17, I joined a small, local gym and started lifting weights properly. From there, I’ve not looked back.

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I’ve become more and more addicted to exercise over the intervening years. It’s slowly formed a central pillar in my life. It grounds me. I know that wherever I go, whatever I do in my life, physical exertion will be a part of it somehow.

Exercise showed me how the actions I took had direct impact on outcomes. If I chose to do pushups and pullups, I could literally see a physical development in my chest and back muscles in a matter of weeks. I’d never thought of things in that way before. The realisation was incredibly empowering.

It didn’t take long to start applying that understanding into other areas of my life: the more I read, the more knowledgeable I became. The greater my effort into thinking clearly and having challenging conversations, the better my ability to communicate.

Rocky IV was the way I discovered self-discipline. And that’s at the root of everything I do today.

So… what’s the point? Why did I tell you that story?

Well, I’m not saying Rocky IV is going to be as transformative for you as it was for me. But you don’t know what film, song or book could be. It might be anything, and it may arrive in your life at just the right moment to make a difference. So deliberately expose yourself to new things. Go in with an open mind to every book you read, every TV programme you watch, every conversation you have – and maybe even every blog post you read.

In being curious, thoughtful and ready to act on your convictions, your mind will become a fertile ground for new ideas.

And, if that moment of realisation hits, you’ll be ready.

 

Violent and original

Art, Creativity, Fitness, Motivation, Philosophy, productivity, writing

“Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.”

Gustave Flaubert.

What this means for you and I:

  • Have a routine (go to bed and wake up at roughly the same time every day)
  • Forge habits that, when aggregated, make your life better over time
  • Look after yourself – good nutrition, adequate rest, strenuous physical exercise, access to a broad range of mentally stimulating inputs (films, books, podcasts, conversations etc)
  • Don’t make stupid financial decisions that will put strain on the rest of your life

In sum: get out of your own way. Don’t let chaos impede your ability to do the work you’re capable of. You owe it to yourself.

“Actions express priorities” | January in review

Creativity, economics, Fitness, Motivation, productivity, writing

Well, we got through it: January’s done. How was it for you?

Mine was good. At the start of this year, I set myself the goal of doing more. That’s what I figure it all boils down to. January’s been pretty successful on those terms.

Here’s some of what I’ve been doing:

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I drew, I wrote, I lifted heavy weights, I slogged through some tricky assignments, read some good books, listened to interesting podcasts and great music, and tried to stay present throughout. I’m meditating more consistently than ever at the moment. Getting here has genuinely been a transformative process. These days, I rarely find myself lost in thought, a state which has been the norm for the majority of my life. It’s refreshing to feel focussed, determined, and happy instead of anxious, depressed and worried. I’ll link to some resources in the notes below if you’re interested in learning more about meditation.

Here’s today’s thought: remember that regardless of how your January went, it’s over. You can’t change it. The future, however, is yours. So take a moment to consider what went well well last month, what you might have handled better and what your goals are for February. After you’re done thinking, consider the quote below:

“Action expresses priorities.”

-Mahatma Gandhi 

What are your priorities? Are your actions in line with them?

Here’s a way to approach February:

  1. Decide what you want your month to look like.
  2. Think about the specific things you need to do to make it that way.
  3. Set your days up so that you have scheduled time for those things.
  4. Get to work!

Links/notes:

Here’s a short video summarising some of the benefits of meditation, and one of the best introductory guided meditations I know of (if you’re ready to give it a go):

Jon Kabat-Zimm is the founder of much of modern mindfulness practices. Pretty amazing bloke.

This meditation is only 8 minutes long, and Sam Harris is an excellent guide:

By the way, if you’re interested in my drawings/artwork, the best place to see more is my Instagram. Expect 28 new drawings this February:

The flu, creative destruction and the importance of rest

Art, Creativity, economics, productivity

Today’s drawing:

I’ve been feeling awful for two days now. This cold that’s been doing the rounds finally caught me. I hate the feeling of sickness hampering productivity. Every part of me wants to just power through it and refuse to accept the illness, but that’s counterproductive. I have to force myself to allow my body the chance to heal. I slept for 11 hours last night…

But things are looking up. Here’s one of Joseph Alois Schumpeter, an economist who coined the term ‘creative destruction’ – a phenomena which explains a lot of the rapid technological transformation we see in the world around us today. He’s been on my mind, as I had an essay due in on the effectiveness of barriers to entry – the Schumpeterian entrepreneur has been mucking around in my subconscious a lot. So I guess that’s why this drawing appeared.

Had some more success this week. A drawing of my favourite coffee shop, Home Coffee, was noticed by them… I think they’re going to display it in store! It’s just a reminder that consistently doing good work and sharing it does pay dividends.

Here’s to the weekend everyone.

 

 

Getting back on the horse

Creativity, Motivation, Philosophy, productivity

You know the story. It’s all going brilliantly: the diet, the study schedule, the workouts, the commitment to practice learning a new language. Then something comes along and messes it all up.

Before you know it you’re in a downward spiral. You ate that donut, so the rest of the diet can go out the window. You missed a workout so you may as well wait until next week to start the new routine again.

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In my case, I missed a few days of writing and drawing over the weekend. I prioritised other things. It doesn’t feel good to know I’m never, ever going to get those hours back. But there’s nothing to do about it now other than to get going.

Think of a strongman dragging a lorry (or truck for any of my American readers). They push off, straining, every tendon taut. It’s hard at first, but they start making progress, inch by painful inch. As soon as they start to slow down, even slightly, it’s essentially impossible to get going again.

So keep the momentum up for as long as you can. When you mess up (which you will, and I will), leave as little time as possible before getting back to work. Don’t give yourself a chance to breathe. Don’t let the thing you’re hammering at stiffen and set – get right back to pounding at it until it’s red hot again.

Today, I got back on the horse. And that’s good enough for now.

Always be closing

Creativity, Fitness, Motivation, productivity

Juggling commitments is hard. I’ve got coursework due, projects to work on, gym sessions to hit and goals to achieve. So do we all.

Sometimes we get worn down. It’s impossible to go full throttle all the time. But let’s remember one thing: always be closing. Don’t lose sight of what you’re working towards.

If you need to, take a breather, reload – and get back to work.

Today’s drawing: “I am Spartacus!”

Art, Creativity, productivity

Enjoyed this one of a young Kirk Douglas, and actually fairly happy with the outcome. Drawing every day I’m definitely noticing an incremental improvement in my work. I’m getting more confident in my decisions – the complexity of poses, or the boldness of lines.

If you take a look back in my Instagram to around November (when I started drawing more regularly again) you’ll definitely notice a difference: they’re shittier, for sure:

I got my 1000 words written too, despite an impending econometrics assignment (maybe because of it)…

Keep working hard out there, folks!

What Casey Neistat can teach you about persistence

Art, Creativity, Miscellaneous thoughts, Motivation, productivity, writing

If you haven’t heard of Casey Neistat, he’s a pretty big deal on YouTube. He has around 9 million subscribers and is widely renowned for having revolutionised something that’s now become ubiquitous: ‘vlogging’.

He’s a pioneer. This fantastic video essay by the Nerdwriter (one of the best channels out there) explains exactly why Casey’s had such an incredible response:

In a nutshell, it’s the combination of a lifetime of practice and skill with a willingness to be agile, adapting to new platforms and ways of sharing. He’s bringing the eye of an award winning filmmaker to what had been mainly an amateur game – and shifted the expectation of quality of content on YouTube to new heights.

So here’s the lesson: Casey forced himself to produce a vlog every single day, no matter how busy he was, even if he had nothing exciting planned. Applying such rigid constraints to his creative process, rather than being stifling, actually allowed him to flourish. That’s where the majority of his growth has come from, and I think put him into the zone where he was able to create such inspiring, interesting work and connect with such a huge audience.

I’m learning from him and applying that persistence, the commitment to daily output to my own work. So far I’m loving it. The fact I’ve promised myself (and you guys now) that I’ll be sharing something every single day removes the need for it to be perfect. It just needs to be done.

“The best is the enemy of the good.”

-Voltaire

A trap we can fall into too far too easily is holding back on getting stuff done. We tinker, and play around, waiting for the thing to be ‘perfect’ before we put it out there. Let me tell you what you already know: that time will never come.

So, instead of perfect, strive for good enough. Instead of waiting, put it out there. Then, move onto the next thing. It’s precisely that attitude that’s allowed Henry Rollins to be so incredibly productive over so many years.

Without further ado, here’s today’s drawing:

I’m having a lot of fun doing work inspired by film noir, sometimes known as ‘the golden age of cinema’. I’m producing highly stylised drawings, with lots of stark black and white, crosshatching and brightly coloured contrasting backgrounds. I have my mum gifting me a set of brush pens to thank for the injection of colour (thanks mum!). The result is what I’d describe as Dick Tracy crossed with Frank Miller (never thought I’d see those two together in a sentence).

What are you working on at the moment? Stop reading this, and get back to work!


Links

Casey’s channel

Some of my favourite videos of his:

The first one I ever saw… (still watch it if I need a bit of a boost):

And here’s the Nerdwriter.

 

Today’s drawing, and a very short thought:

Art, Creativity, Miscellaneous thoughts, productivity

So far, I’ve been successful in doing a drawing every day of 2018 (all seven days of it… pretty impressive, right?).

Here’s today’s:

Certainly wasn’t easy to motivate myself to draw after a day spent in the university library doing econometrics… But I got it done.

I’ve been thinking about why this recent bout of writing and drawing has been going well (and feeling good) so far. I think this quote is extremely important:

“You can’t win a game you haven’t defined.”

-David Allen

Vague goals are impossible to achieve. Most new year’s resolutions are like this: “get in better shape”, or “be more creative.”

If you set clearly defined parameters, you’ll know if you’re on track or not. You can adjust as and when you need. So “be more creative” has become:

  1. One new drawing a day.
  2. Write 1000 words a day.

And that’s it! It’s binary. If I notice a pattern of routinely meeting these or not, it’ll tell me something about whether they’re the right goals, whether I need to change a habit or routine.

That’s infinitely better than flailing around in a cloud of uncertainty.

Define your game.